Friday 15th April 2016
Location: Hong Kong
After months of deliberation, preparation and research, it’s finally time for me to leave my home of the past three years and start my travels back to dear old Blighty. Saying goodbye to Hong Kong was one of the most difficult things I have ever done and while I feel sad, I’m certain that the reality of it hasn’t quite hit home yet. I feel sorry for whoever has to deal with that when it sinks in at some point over the next few weeks.
With my bag packed and somehow hoisted onto my shoulders (it weighs a ton!) I made my way to Hung Hom Station. Naturally I was over an hour early and I was sent away to spend a difficult hour outside Burger King with the boy assuring me I was going to get there in one piece. In an attempt to avoid a tearful goodbye, we opted for a secret handshake and went our separate ways. See you in 200 days my love. Saying goodbye to him makes this trip feel a little selfish. I’d made the decision to do it before I met him but there was still time to turn back. I feel an added guilt knowing that people are worrying about me over the journey and it’s going to be very difficult for me to stay in contact for the first week or so.
When it was time to go through immigration, the process was as straight forward as you would expect it to be in this organised city but when the announcement came, my nerves got a bit tingly. As the train pulled away from Hong Kong, I felt as though I was leaving a little bit of myself behind. I was expecting to sob as the last recognisable parts of the city disappeared but I felt okay, I realised that there was no chance that this was the last time I would see the city. I will be back.
The Hong Kong to Beijing train was a lot more relaxed than I was expecting. We were ushered into six-bed cabins with triple bunk beds on each side. I was fortunate enough that it was only myself and another woman in my cabin so we had plenty of space to make ourselves comfortable – I imagine it would be a bit of a squeeze with all six beds full. My bunkmate was deaf so communication was slightly more complicated. Unfortunately British Sign Language is different to Chinese, so my little skills in BSL were wasted. With a few gestures and points we managed to get by, share food and make some polite conversation.
The carriages are surprisingly quiet with speakers that chime Chinese ballads mixed with smatterings of Hotel California and Save the Last Dance for Me. My carriage was quite empty and everyone tended to keep themselves to themselves, aside from a few odd looks, no one paid much attention to me. This was fine by me as I delved into a book, read letters from my friends and drank tea watching the world go by outside.
Tips from Day One: Toilets on the Hong Kong to Beijing train are squats so bring tissues and your best balance!
Saturday 16th April 2016
My last epic train journey in the States is a bit of a blur so I couldn’t remember how well I slept. It’s a strange feeling to get used to. I think the trains travel faster at night so all of the motions feel accelerated and exaggerated but that could also be due to slipping in and out of sleep. I was on and off for nearly 12 hours over my first night – I was exhausted after my last week in Hong Kong. I stirred a few times when we took certain bends and stopped at stations. My strangest recollection from the night was waking to find we had stopped quite suddenly in the middle of a field. Flashes in my peripherals told me we were in the centre of a lightening storm. There was no thunder, just balls and forks of bright light filling the sky for an hour before we slowly started to trundle on once more. It was a slightly surreal experience to say the least and with announcements only in Mandarin, I had no idea what was going on.
The rest of the journey was coffee, read, tea, repeat as we prepared to arrive at Beijing. With seven hours to kill before my next train I had visions of exploring the city and its history. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The map I had been given to direct me a short walk to my ticket collection office was not from my arrival station as I thought, it was from my departure station. So I had to find a way to get across town fast.
Because my brain can only cope being so organised, the one thing I didn’t get round to doing in my last hectic week was exchanging money. It’s the one thing I always forget and it always works out okay. My Bank of China card will be accepted at a Bank of China in China right? WRONG. After several trips to the info woman in the station and with the help of some incredibly kind strangers I was lead to the post office who could sort me out. They couldn’t. They directed me to the next bank who could sort me out. They were shut. Luckily there was a cash machine that accepted my UK card and all was well with the world again. I jumped in a cab and eventually made my way to the office (via directions from a guy in 711) to find it was closed. Walking closer to the front door I spotted a note in the window telling me to collect my ticket from a safe box downstairs. Crisis averted.
Needless to say by this point I was feeling a little frazzled and tourist attractions were not on the cards. I found myself a coffee shop with WiFi and electricity so I could set up camp until I needed to head to the train. It was nice to have contact with home and some company after the last stressful couple of hours. I’m hoping that there will be more people to talk to on my next train as, while I enjoy my own company, I can imagine it could get a little lonely after a while.
Tips from Day Two: Get a China SIM card and exchange money in advance. My life would have been a lot easier with both of these things.